Andy Leshik first saw it at a fitness expo: a man riding around the showroom floor, standing up, on what looked like an oversize scooter.
"I had to see what it was," said Leshik, director of sales and marketing of Leisure Fitness in Newark, Del.
That was 2008, and now you can see that thing - an ElliptiGO - zipping through Fairmount Park. It's becoming an option for runners who want to continue training while injured, or who don't want to pound the pavement as often anymore.
The ElliptiGO is an elliptical machine on wheels. Instead of hand pedals that move in time with your feet, the ElliptiGO has a bike's handlebars, including hand brakes and gear shift.
I'm a timid biker, so I didn't believe Leshik when he told me getting on and off the machine would be easy when we met on a cold morning in Fairmount Park. But the motion was simple: one foot in the pedal, coast, then hook in the other foot. With a quick few steps, I was zipping from the fountain in front of the Please Touch Museum and into the park.
The main customers for the machine, Leshik said, are 35- to 50-year-old runners or former runners who want to give their bodies a break from the asphalt, or who want an alternative to running that doesn't involve gym time or a bike.
That describes cofounder Bryan Pate. An Ironman competitor in the late 1990s, Pate couldn't run three miles without his knees hurting by the time he hit 30. To stay in shape, he tried biking and a stationary elliptical. Neither compared to running.
"I didn't want to wear Spandex for the rest of my life, but at the same time I didn't want to go to a gym for the rest of my life," he said.
There must be a mobile version of this, he thought as he did another elliptical workout.
There wasn't. He partnered with Brent Teal, a mechanical engineer, and made one. The first model sold in 2005.
Leshik, whose company has 25 stores on the East Coast, started carrying them in 2008. They've sold 250 this year, up from 140 in 2011. That's not bad, he said, given the price tag. The most basic model, a three-speed, is $1,799, and the 11-speed model will set you back $3,499. You can rent them, too, for $50 per day up to $175 per week.
Julie Culley, the 2012 U.S. 5,000-meter champion who finished 14th in the 5,000 meters in the London Olympics, tried one last fall.
While preparing for the Olympics, Culley took it out on the back roads of Clinton, N.J., on her rest days. Two to three times a week, she'd opt for the ElliptiGO instead of running her second workout of the day, "especially if I was really tired," she said. "I could get up the next morning and my legs would not feel totally trashed."
Leshik and I rode for a half hour. It's not as hard as running - how can it be when you can coast? But it was a workout. I pushed harder against the wind, and up hills. Despite the 35-degree temperature, I sweated.
On our final loop through the park, we passed a grounds crew. They stopped to watch us.
"That's fly!" one yelled out.
Going 15 m.p.h. through Fairmount Park standing up? That's how I felt, too.
Every Sunday through Feb. 24: Browning Ross Winter Series, Glassboro 5K. Register day of race only. For information, go to: tuffgangrunning.com.
Sunday: Bucks County Roadrunners Running Club Winter Series, Race 3, Tyler Challenge 10K. Tyler State Park Boathouse, Newtown. 9:30 a.m. Details at: http://www.bcrr.info/ws2012_2013.html.